DOJ To Probe COVID-19 Deaths At Mass. Veterans Home

By Chris Villani
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Law360 (April 10, 2020, 2:01 PM EDT) -- The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney's office in Boston announced Friday that they will investigate a COVID-19 outbreak at a Massachusetts veterans home where 32 people died, seeking to find out whether residents were properly protected from the pandemic.

The DOJ said Friday it would investigate a COVID-19 outbreak at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke. As of Thursday, 68 staffers and 69 veterans who lived at the facility have tested positive for the coronavirus. (Getty)

The investigation by U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling's office and the DOJ's Civil Rights Division will look into whether the rights of residents of the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke were violated by a failure to protect them during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has proven to be more lethal for the elderly.

"It would be difficult to overstate our obligation to the health and well-being of elderly and disabled military veterans and, by extension, to their families," Lelling said in a statement. "We will aggressively investigate recent events at the home and, as needed, require the commonwealth to adopt reforms to ensure patient safety in the future."

Of the 32 residents who have died, 28 tested positive for the novel coronavirus, while four tested negative. As of Thursday, state data showed that 69 veterans who lived at the facility have tested positive for the virus, along with 68 staffers.

The federal probe is the third to look into the deaths. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Wednesday that her office would be launching an investigation to find out whether legal action is warranted. Previously, on April 1, Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker tapped McDermott Will & Emery LLP partner Mark W. Pearlstein to investigate "what went wrong and why" inside the 247-bed facility.

The latest investigation is separate from those probes.

"Our hearts go out to the families of the veterans who passed away," said Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for civil rights, in Friday's statement. "We owe it to the veterans, their families and the public to investigate the facts, determine what happened, ensure compliance with the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act and protect those veterans who continue to reside at the Soldiers' Home."

The state said this week that many residents of the Western Massachusetts facility have been removed from the Soldiers' Home. Massachusetts saw its largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases on Thursday, with 2,151 new cases for a total of 18,941 confirmed cases in the state. The death toll jumped by 70 to 503 total.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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